The times we live in appear to be feeding trends which represent a serious threat to democracy.
On the one hand, the appetite for learning appears to be suffering from the lure of the social media and all the attendant distractions. The attraction is to know about the now, the sensational and the ephemeral rather than about the past, the basic and the established. On the other hand, the appetite for learning seems also to being dulled by a feeling of exclusion, a feeling that no amount of education can overcome the barriers to social mobility, of class and of inherited advantage.
The times have also fed the ubiquitous process of scapegoating that accompanies economic hardship, a hardship that is likely to continue permanently in some quarters. Newspapers and news channels discharge an endless stream of poisonous misinformation to suit the avarice and ambitions of their owners. No surprise then when a You Gov poll reveals that the population believes that 25% of all benefits are claimed fraudulently when the actual figure is less than 1%. The poll also revealed that people believe that immigrants make up 31% of the whole population rather than the true figure of 13% and that 24% of the population are Muslims when the actual figure is 5%. People believe that 15% of all under16 year olds are pregnant when the true figure is 0.6%. Perhaps most worryingly is the pedalled myth that nobody bothers to vote, such that people think only 43% bothered at the last election rather than the 65% who actually did.
Perhaps the most critical purpose of education is to encourage young people to question and to use the internet wisely in order to establish fact, to expose lies and to bear witness to their findings. We are also surely bound to explain to them the calamities that can follow if we do not demand the truth.
The increasing availability and reach of news and information has further reinforced the struggle for influence over what we read and what we hear. The current indignation from some newspapers, about having their right to destroy people’s lives curtailed, is interesting. Yes, we need a balance to ensure that their ability to expose corruption and injustice is not impeded. However, we also need to have an open debate and the fact of the matter is that the media, by and large, enage in forms of social and political ‘propaganda’ that further undermines their case for any form of exemption.
I notice that many radio stations and wireless internet providers are SKY News based. SKY news is ‘right’ leaning and does not give the same balance of reporting as the BBC, who are required to put both sides.
All of this makes the role of education critical. We can begin, from an early age, discussing how important it is to explain things fairly. We also need to explain that people who want to tell you things will have a motive for doing so. What is that motive?
The best way is always to find out the range of views that people have before deciding on your own. It is basically a scientific method. Gather all the facts and different poits of view before trying to make sense of it. Another argument for placing philosophy and the search for truth at the heart of the curriculum.
Perhaps the failure of teaching to establish itself as a profession on a par with medicine or the law rests with the absence of a clearly defined realm of expertise.
Teaching involves translating a body of knowledge so that it can be presented in an appropriate and effective manner. The term to describe this process is pedagogy. Pedagogy encompasses a substantial amount of decision making and a demand for expert judgements that is surely the equal of medicine or law.
Pedagogy is little used by the profession at large and when it is, often describes but one element of the process. This ‘selective’ tendency is perhaps one reason why the term has not established itself as the true descriptor and champion of the teaching profession. Other theories suggest that the term has been appropriated by the academic world (and therefore treated with caution by schools), another that government, as paymasters and keepers of the social status quo, are reluctant to encourage a true process of professionalism. If Pedagogy, as an iconic term, was more dominant, it could greatly assist not only the status of teaching, but also of the training and development of teachers.
The meaning and origin of the word pedagogy is from the Greek for the slave that walks the child to school, i.e. the deliverer of education. So how can we outline the expertise of pedagogy? It is possible to identify 4 inter connecting spheres of pedagogy involving knowledge of subject (Epistemological), knowledge of how such subject content can be presented for learning (Educational), relating to managing groups of children and young people (Social Pedagogy) and fourthly, the ability to reconcile and balance the competing vested interests at play in the classroom (Critical Pedagogy).
Teaching does not provide the concrete outcomes more easily accessible to medicine and the law. However, the complexity and diffusion of outcomes prevalent in education, should be recognised as contributory elements of a high professional standing, to which the term pedagogy does justice.